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In my opinion, a look at the historical origin of this system goes a long way towards understanding it.

The Grandes Écoles underpin the structure of the modern French State since the French Revolution of  1789. In a way, with all the political upheavals that France has gone through since (including five republics, three Empires, Vichy..., as well as two bourgeois revolutions in the C19 as well as disastrous wars in 1870, 1914 and 1940), the state itself has remained. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Around 1800 European States caught on to the fact that a key element in supporting a strong state is an efficient and competent bureaucracy, and Revolutionary France (the École Polytechnique dates back to 1794) up to the early Napoleonic period set out to do just that. Here 'bureaucracy' is broadly understood, ad Jerome points out, as it includes administrators, technocrats and the intelligentsia.

A lot of other countries have copied the model, but only in France it endures.

France has gone through a lot of changes, but the French State hasn't changed all that much since.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 03:15:19 PM EST
I remember I read about Enlightenment-era Europeans being ispired by the Chinese Mandarin system and trying to replicate it, when I wrote a small bachelors thesis on Chinese bureaucracy a few years back. But I never got a good explanation of the French system before now. The similarities are quite striking...
by Trond Ove on Sat Mar 25th, 2006 at 03:23:20 PM EST
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